Subjects: Liberal-Greens preference deal; Senate reform
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Welcome back to Newsday. As promised, we’re talking now to the former Deputy Prime Minister, current Shadow Infrastructure spokesperson Anthony Albanese. Thanks for your company.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Peter.
VAN ONSELEN: You were on radio earlier today talking about a deal being done between government, well the Liberal Party essentially, and the Greens for essentially a preference swap deal. Give my viewers a bit of a sense of what we’re talking about here.
ALBANESE: That’s right. It’s a secret deal.
VAN ONSELEN: Not any more.
ALBANESE: Not anymore, and that’s why we’re calling it out – because it’s designed to be kept from voters even on the day because it’s not a direct exchange that would normally take place in an electorate where both sides agree to swap preferences, it’s something a bit more sophisticated than that but it’s still pretty crude. And it’s that the Greens would get the Liberal preferences before Labor in the seats of Sydney, Grayndler, Melbourne, Batman and Wills.
VAN ONSELEN: So the seats where they feel like they’re a chance, maybe of knocking off the sitting Labor member?
ALABNESE: That’s right, and that would make obviously Labor’s task that much harder to either hold onto four of those seats, or in the case of Melbourne, to win that seat. They’re seats that the Liberal Party can’t win.
VAN ONSELEN: It’s a big deal for the Liberal Party to preference the Greens; we’ll get to some of that in terms of how their members might feel, assuming that this deal is going to go ahead, but what’s in it for the Liberal Party?
ALBANESE: What’s in it for the Liberal Party is not a straight preference deal, but a ‘no preferences’ in seats where they think they can win. So either they’re held seats like Corangamite or Deakin…
VAN ONSELEN: So marginal seats.
ALBANESE: Marginal seats, mainly in Victoria because this is a Victorian brokered deal. So six Victorian seats – Corangamite, Bruce, Chisholm, McEwen, Deakin and La Trobe, and in addition, the northern NSW seat of Richmond which does have a substantial Greens presence.
There’s also, my understanding is, negotiations over the seat of Fremantle which they haven’t managed to land because there’s a disagreement over whether the Greens or the Liberals have the best chance of winning that off Labor.
VAN ONSELEN: It’s an interesting point; you’ve perhaps partly answered my next question. The Liberal Party at a federal level, I’ve been in touch with and they deny that there’s a deal that’s been made at this point in time.
Is that perhaps because it’s going through the state divisions, if you think that the Liberal Party in Victoria are the ones driving this?
ALBANESE: That’s certainly possible, but it’s also the case that they’ll deny it until the how-to-votes come out. The whole idea of this deal was deniability, so that the Greens in Grayndler for example in my seat would say, oh, no, we haven’t done a deal with the Libs, we’re giving Labor preferences before the Liberals.
But of course the Liberals don’t care about Grayndler, what they care about are seats like Richmond and McEwen and other seats they’re trying to win, or seats they’re trying to hold.
VAN ONSELEN: And on those ones they’re trying to hold or win, those marginal seats, it’s not that they’re getting Green preferences, but they’re at least not having Green preferences do what they normally do and be directed toward the Labor Party, whether on a double sided how-to-vote card or no how to vote card at all.
ALBANESE: Or a ‘choose the candidate of your choice’. Either one. The Democrats used to do that from time to time of course, and that can make an enormous difference. When we’re talking about elections being decided – today’s Newspoll of course was 50-50. If you get 53 per cent of the two party preferred vote, that’s a landslide to either political party.
So at the margin these seats that are 51, 52, that can make a difference of 3 or 4 per cent which will change the result.
VAN ONSELEN: See, I’ve written about this in The Australian in terms of what I’ve believed are sort of the underlying reasons why Labor is opposing this reform in the Senate and indeed should oppose it and equally why the Liberal Party are pursuing it, this idea of preference swaps in a close election, where they can help the Greens out in seats that they don’t care about, but they can equally get helped out in marginal seats.
They can’t do it at the moment because in the Senate, the Greens need your party, the Labor Party to get over the line but under the new Senate rules, if they go through, the new legislation, they wouldn’t need the Labor Party because preferences would be out.
ALBANESE: That’s exactly right, and you’ve been spot on with that analysis. Because what essentially it does, when you move to optional preferential in the Senate, is the Greens think, oh well, we don’t need Labor to get that extra push above the quota.
Quite often what’s happened for that sixth Senate seat, the Greens might have been on 0.6 of a quota, Labor’s on 2.4, our 0.4 gets their person elected. Historically, I’ve been a part of negotiations as a former party official, that has been traditionally what has happened is that Labor preferences have assisted Greens to be elected.
Of course, Bob Brown wasn’t elected with a quota for the first time and this sort of drawing up of the drawbridge – once the Greens are in the Senate, for anyone else coming through, is one of the concerns that we have as well, but it’s true that part of the analysis that I certainly had was a pragmatic one.
That is, what are the implications behind optional preferential voting for the relationship between the Senate and the House of Representatives?
Quite clearly, if this cynical deal proceeds, whereby Greens who are, certainly most of their voters are quite hostile to the Government’s agenda, and most Liberal Party members are certainly very hostile to the Greens party agenda, but they’re trying to help each other get elected to the House of Representatives.
Of course it probably wouldn’t matter as much for who forms government in terms of Greens being elected instead of progressive Labor members.
VAN ONSELEN: But individual voters aren’t going to be happy about this sort of arrangement, nor are individual Greens members.
VAN ONSELEN: Just quickly though, to reiterate, how did you get this information? I guess you’re not going to give up your source, but it’s close enough in the Liberal Party that you’re confident that when we have denials coming from Party HQ your answer is, well they would say that, wouldn’t they?
ALBANESE: We haven’t had denials.
VAN ONSELEN. Okay. But I have.
ALBANESE: We’ve had denials of them saying to you that it hasn’t been concluded. And of course that’s not surprising, there’s a bit of wriggle room in that, they can say it hasn’t been concluded because we haven’t put the candles on the cake yet but it’s been baked and it’s sitting there.
The reason why that this has gotten out is that there is disquiet amongst many senior Liberals.
VAN ONSELEN: It was Victoria, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it Victoria that was taking this strong stand at the state level?
ALBANESE: They put the Greens last, and that worked quite effectively for Ted Baillieu when he ran on that basis.
Tony Abbott of course at the last election had the same viewpoint, and of course many people in the Greens, I have Greens Party members who vote for me in the electorate because they think that having a progressive person who can be a member of a party of government, who can sit around the Cabinet table, is in line with what they want in terms of outcomes.
So they vote Green in the Senate. Some of them even hand out against us, but on polling day , every time I have people say to me, don’t worry, I voted for you in the House of Reps.
VAN ONSELEN: I can understand you wanting to out something like this because obviously there are threats there for seats like yours, potentially from the Greens.
I can understand you wanting to point out to Greens voters as well as Liberal voters, hey, hang on a second, how do you feel about this. How serious is the threat though, whether it’s your seat or other seats?
ALBANESE: It’s certainly serious. If you have a look at the seats that have been selected, the five seats, in none of them does Labor get an absolute majority of votes, gentrification is assisting the Greens in inner suburban seats.
In my electorate, a home that’s been occupied by a Greek family or a Vietnamese family gets sold and a professional moves in who’s more likely to vote Green or Labor rather than Labor or Liberal, the historic position that was there in the inner west of Sydney.
VAN ONSELEN: Just before we run out of time, I want to move on to the Senate briefly. The deal that is being done in the Senate, which we’ve seen very publicly being done between the Greens and the Liberal Party.
It’s my view, this is more a psephologist’s question of you as a Labor frontbencher, but it’s my view that the Liberals need to be careful about this sort of a deal because in the longer term, maybe not even in the shorter term with the Xenophon Party around, but in the longer term they could be consigning the Senate to a permanent balance of power for the Greens.
Now, that is something that is not so much of a problem I wouldn’t have thought for the Labor Party philosophically, necessarily, as it is for the Liberal Party. Why aren’t they thinking about that?
ALBANESE: Well, they need to think long term and this is an example. What’s the problem they’re trying to solve? The problem they’re trying to solve is that more than 20 per cent of Australians currently don’t vote Labor, Liberal, National or Green in the Senate.
VAN ONSELEN: Which is a protest vote, essentially?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. But you don’t solve a political problem through a political manipulation and a fix. And that’s what this is. So it’s very short term. It’s aimed at the next election. This is the biggest change in more than two decades.
It of course has the immediate impact of having a double D election which I think is likely now and that removes some of the impediments, as they see them – Ricky Muir and Glenn Lazarus, and people who’ve been elected – but they would have been far better to actually go and engage with those crossbenchers. Talk with those crossbenchers.
You can get legislation through as we showed in the minority government between 2010 and 2013 if you treat people with a little bit of respect, if you provide them with proper briefings, if you engage in genuine dialogue with them. This government hasn’t done that.
They’ve been arrogant and now they’re trying to fix a political problem with a fix, literally, between themselves and the Greens and itself in terms of the process, crunching it through with no proper process that would normally take place in terms of scrutiny of the Bill.
In the House of Representatives, the day after it was introduced as they were crunching it through, on the Tuesday, they had to move six amendments to their own legislation because there was no provision for the counting of the Senate ballot papers in the legislation.
That shows it was flawed and I wonder how many other mistakes there are in the legislation that’s been signed off by the Coalition and the Greens.
VAN ONSELEN: Anthony Albanese, thank you for joining us on Newsday.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.